I went back to where I came from, back to the mountains of Central Pennsylvania to be reminded of the subtleties of place. I made my usual stops at Jasminaire boutique, the local head shop for incense and moccasins and at the Squeeze-In for a hot dog with everything.
I parked my car on a Sunday morning (the hot dog and head shop was taken care of the night before on my way to my aunt’s, who lives outside of town) while everyone was in church and walked the streets of downtown. There are small changes in buildings, their occupants and ownership changing hands only a bit since I last called it home. There are more vacancies, signs in the windows reading “Available for Rent”; the store windows soaped or covered in newspaper.
Train tracks run through Sunbury, parallel to the Susquehanna River and the flood wall along Front street, like two scars along the back of a hand. Stand on the tracks there, that run along Third street and you can see from one end of town to the other.
I had forgotten about the trains, about the long pauses in traffic as they chug through town at 30 miles an hour. Walking along the tracks, I could hear the whistle as the train came to cross streets, long and steady. when it met up with me between Woodlawn and Market, the whistle was so loud I could feel it my feet and in my chest as my brain rattled at the noise. I watched the cars slip by me, listening to the rhythm of the wheels on the rails. I had forgotten about this mostly daily occurrence, of the sound of a train headed into town and then back out again.